Up In the Air
United Airlines has started cracking down on oversized carry-on luggage, going so far as sending passengers back to the ticket counters to pay a fee to check their bags.
Although the carry-on size restrictions have been in place for years, airlines have not enforced them consistently, often going no further than occasional spot checks. While oversized carry-on bags were previously checked at the gate for free, United wants to check those bags before travelers even get through security in order to charge them the additional $25 fee.
The airline has begun enforcing carry-on size limits by instructing workers at security checkpoint entrances to "estimate" if passengers' bags are too large. In February, the airline also introduced bag-sizing boxes at most airports and emailed frequent fliers to remind them of the rules on carry-on size.
The airline has begun enforcing carry-on size limits by instructing workers at security checkpoint entrances to "estimate" if passengers bags are too large.
Under United's written regulations, passengers are allowed one carry-on bag — no larger than 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches — to fit in the overhead bin, as well as one personal item, such as a purse or laptop bag, to fit under the seat in front of them.
Some see the crackdown on carry-on bag size as a way for United to increase profit through extra fees. The airline, however, says it's simply ensuring that compliant passengers have space left for them in the overhead bins as the last passengers aboard planes often have to check their bags at the gate since the bins were already full.
"The stepped-up enforcement is to address the customers who complained about having bags within the size limit and weren't able to take them on a plane," United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson tells the Associated Press. "That is solely what this is about."
Even if United is simply looking to help those passengers with the new measures, they will almost definitely benefit financially as well if more passengers are forced to check their carry-on bags.
At the moment, United collects $638 million in checked-bag fees each year, but wants to increase that figure. In a January earnings call, United's chief revenue officer Jim Compton said the airline hopes to collect an extra $700 million from extras like baggage fees and the sale of extra legroom over the next four years, according to the AP.
The airline has updated information about the guidelines on its website, telling passengers to use the new luggage sizers "to find out whether your carry-on and personal item are able to be brought on board, so you can check any bags that are too large right there in the lobby."
"You may have purchased a bag that claims to be 'official carry-on size," the airline notes. "However, this labeling can be misleading because it doesn't specifically represent United's size restrictions."
If you visit United's carry-on information website, you are instantly presented with "discounts from Tumi, Samsonite and Hartmann," three suitcase purveyors that sell carry-on bags which do comply with their standards.
So next time you're headed to the airport for a flight on United, make sure your carry-on bags are appropriately sized or expect to lose $25 — and some precious time — under the new enforcement crackdown.